By Vickie L. Holt (written in September, 2006)
Within the last ten years, this country’s high schools have become a horrifying killing field:
November 8, 2005 – Campbell County High School, Jacksonboro, TN. 1 dead, 2 wounded. Shooter was 15.
March 21, 2005 – Red Lake High School, Red Lake, MN. 10 dead, including the shooter. Shooter was 16.
September 24, 2003 Rocori High School, Cold Spring, MN. 2 dead. Shooter was 15.
April 24, 2003 – Red Lion Junior High, Red Lion, PA. 2 dead, including the shooter. Shooter was 14.
April 14, 2003 – John McDonogh High School, New Orleans, LA. 1 dead 3 wounded. Perpetrators were four teenage students not of that school.
January 15, 2002 – Martin Luther King Jr. High School, New York, NY. 2 wounded.
November 12, 2001 – Caro Learning Center, Caro, MI. 2 hostages taken, shooter suicided. Shooter was 17.
March 30, 2001 – Lew Wallace High School, Gary, IN. 1 dead. Shooter was 17.
March 22, 2001 – Granite Hills High School, Granite Hills, CA. 4 wounded. Shooter was 18.
March 7, 2001 – Bishop Neuman High School, Williamsport, PA. 1 wounded. Shooter was 14.
March 5, 2001 – Santana High School, Santee, CA. 2 dead and 13 wounded. Shooter was 15 and shooting from the bathroom, like a sniper.
January 17, 2001 – Lake Clifton Eastern High School, Baltimore, MD. 1 dead.
September 26, 2001 – Woodson Middle School, New Orleans, LA. 2 wounded.
May 26, 2000 – Lake Worth Middle School, Lake Worth, FL. 1 teacher dead. Shooter was 13.
February 29, 2000 – Buell Elementary School, Mount Morris Township, MI. 1 six-year old dead. Shooter was also 6.
December 6, 1999 – Fort Gibson Middle School, Fort Gibson, OK. 4 wounded. Shooter was 13.
November 19, 1999 – Deming Middle School, Deming, NM. 1 dead. Shooter was 12.
May 20, 1999 – Heritage High School, Conyers, GA. 6 wounded. Shooter was 15.
April 20, 1999 – Columbine High School, Littleton, CO. 15 dead, 23 wounded. Shooters were 18 and 17.
June 15, 1998 – Richmond, VA. 2 school staff wounded. Shooter was 14.
May 21, 1998 – Thurston High School, Springfield, OR. 2 dead, 22 wounded. Shooter was 15. Parents were also found dead at home.
May 19, 1998 – Lincoln County High School, Fayetteville, TN. 1 dead. Shooter was 18.
April 24, 1998 – James W. Parker Middle School, Edinboro, PA. 1 teacher killed, 2 students wounded. Shooter was 14.
March 24, 1998 – Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, AR. 5 dead, 10 wounded. Shooters were 11 and 13, shooting sniper-style from the woods while everyone was outside because of a false fire alarm.
December 15, 1997 – Stamps, AR. 2 wounded. Shooter was 14, and also shooting from the woods.
December 1, 1997 – Heath High School, West Paducah, KY. 3 dead, 5 wounded. Shooter was 14.
October 1, 1997 – Pearl, MS. 2 dead, 7 wounded. Shooter was 16. Mother also killed.
February 19, 1997 – Bethel, AK. 2 dead and 2 wounded. Shooter was 16.
February2, 1996 – Moses Lake, WA. 3 dead, 1 wounded. Shooter was 14.
The statistics have been building for ten years. What happened? Why did the youth of this country become so unpredictably homicidal? I hope, in the following discussion, to outline my opinion that it is due to a combination of influences that unfortunately converged on this country at the same time.
It was early in the 1980’s that the media began to focus on child abuse. Through governmental campaigns and local awareness, the country was soon crawling with child abuse bloodhounds, ready to pounce on parents and take children away at the first sign of mistreatment.
Their intentions were for the best. Though child abuse is still an unfortunate reality today, these watchdogs did succeed in stopping a great deal of it. The one regrettable drawback to this inquisition was that teachers and concerned citizens began calling the authorities at the slightest sign of injury. Thousands of bewildered parents were approached and questioned harshly about bruises, cuts, burns and scratches. No matter how much they tried to explain that their children were active outdoors, and that they’d obtained the injuries through nothing more sinister than play, they still found themselves under a very dangerous form of scrutiny. The kind of scrutiny that could end with their children being taken from them and put in foster homes.
It’s difficult to believe that these professional organizations and officers couldn’t understand the difference between abuse and play, but one would have to understand the zealous nature of this movement. When it came to the children, better to take no chances at all than to believe a lying parent when he or she said that Billy’s bruise had been gotten on the playground.
It wasn’t long until fearful parents began coddling their children, afraid to let them play roughly outside. If a teacher saw a bruise or scrape, it could mean the end of the family. I know several parents personally who were approached in this very manner. When doing anything outdoors, mothers and fathers became vigilant directors of their children’s every move in an effort to keep them from hurting themselves.
On the heels of this witch hunt came a whole new philosophy in child rearing. The idea was to nurture a child in every way, and to do absolutely nothing that would make them feel deprived or lower their self esteem. This is when schools began practicing giving prizes to every child in a contest, instead of just those who’d won. “Time Out” replaced spankings, and television managed to spawn an army of children’s shows that were so mild they made Sesame Street look harsh by comparison.
What these well-meaning organizations and individuals may not have taken into consideration, however, was the negative effects such an environment could have on a developing mind. To begin with, the idea of giving prizes and rewards for all children of all behaviors in an effort to boost self esteem has the exact opposite effect. If Mary has done an amazing job, and Jenny didn’t do much of anything, yet Jenny was praised just as highly as Mary and received the same prize, Mary would have no reason to feel proud of her efforts. If trying harder, reaching for goals and achieving success when faced with challenge doesn’t get you anything more than everybody else gets for doing nothing, then nothing you’ve done is special. No esteem is gained. Why should a child even try to excel in that kind of system?
But Mary isn’t the only loser in this case. Jenny got a prize for doing nothing. And though she may have a souvenir of the occasion, there was really nothing to make her feel as though she’d accomplished anything. Again, no esteem. And to a child like this, if prizes and rewards can be obtained with little effort, then why try?
For both children, the answer is the same. Why try? Compounding this situation was the removal of consequence for not meeting what was expected of you. Parents were urged to use “time out” as an alternative to spanking a child or depriving them of treats as a punishment. But a child’s mind is no different than an adult’s. Conditioning is the only teacher, and conditioning demands real consequences for failure. And though a child may feel sad when he fails, it would then give him incentive for not wanting to fail again. This child may become more motivated to do well and succeed, especially when he sees that a desired prize or reward will only be given when success is achieved.
The current system is a crippling one. Though success and failure has its ups and downs, it also creates motivation, hope, pride and a desire to become involved and act. But with the current philosophy of “no consequence for failure/no prize for success”, life can be a lot like living for years in a boat with no sail on a sea of dead calm. No wonder they’re bored and frustrated.
Because many children since the early 1980’s grew up with no real consequence for bad behavior – getting whatever they wanted through the “no deprivation/self esteem” philosophy – many developed an expectation of being able to have anything they wanted, because nothing was ever denied them. In the past, “the terrible twos” was something all parents knew about, expected and dreaded. This is a time in the life of every child when he or she has no inhibitions at all when it comes to selfishness and anger. Most of us have experienced the screaming tantrum that will ensue when something a toddler desires is taken away from him. It’s a type of outburst with absolutely no restraint or self control. Almost all toddlers have angry, possessive reactions that are accompanied by physical attack – hitting, scratching and biting. This illustrates that, at age two, even when mildly irritated, an individual will lash out with the strongest weapons at his or her disposal as a first resort. There is no build up of tolerance, no patience and no gradual escalation of aggressive measures. Just immediate, full-scale attack. This is a very important trait to note, as it applies directly to many of the teens who have opened fire.
In the past, however, the “two’s” were also the years when parents began tempering the child and conditioning him to rules and expected behaviors. Through corporal punishment, a child began learning as early as age two that this kind of anger and physical attack was unacceptable. Babies and toddlers haven’t been in the world long enough to have any base knowledge of the protocols of modern society. In its purest form, their actions and reactions draw more from the vestiges of human instinct than anything else. The reason corporal punishment, carefully applied, is so successful is that it is the only real language a child of that age can understand. Many people would feel insulted to hear the words “pecking order” applied to the human race, but this time-tested method of determining one’s position in the community is a major factor in the instinctual behaviors of many creatures on this planet…humanity included. When a toddler strikes out, he’s testing his position. If he’s not made to understand at this vital stage that there’s someone above him in that order, he’ll come to behave as though he has dominance. It’s because of this that many parents lose control of their children and find themselves helpless to reverse the situation in later years.
Even modern television recognizes the widespread scope of this situation, as the industry has produced many programs dealing with the problem of out of control children and teens. There are several reality shows that follow the formula made popular by “The Super Nanny”, though these programs perpetuate the harmful practices of no real consequence for bad behavior. But there are still many more shows that deal with teens. One of these shows was a reality program that sent rebellious teens to boot camp in an effort to finally teach them the lessons of humility and control. To further illustrate that physical application of force is what finally does get through to a young mind, these teens were pushed to the extreme of physical exertion and pain. Though the pain was achieved through exercise rather than directly applied by another person, the program was still successful.
Since that pivotal time during the early 1980’s, many children have been deprived of this vital, age-two stage of learning because parents became afraid to administer corporal punishment. First, out of fear they’d be targeted as child abusers. Later, out of compassion. Finally, a firm hand at this stage just went out of style. Today, parents feel more comfortable administering the firm hand when the child is older, and they feel he is sturdy enough to take it. Unfortunately, since the child was never conditioned at two, the resulting reactions are often 10-year old versions of a 2-year old instinctual behavior.
When a parent first attempts to control a child’s behavior, a child of any age – according to their individual psychologies – may display the same unrestrained anger as a toddler, and a willingness to back up his position with physical attack. Most children, as many parents have experienced (and are still experiencing today), merely assert their dominance verbally – refusing instruction and vehemently suggesting instruction of their own for the parent in return…breaking down into aggressive tantrums when all else fails. At this stage, unfortunately, these behaviors are even more difficult to alter than a toddler’s. These children understand language and the conveyance of complex thought.
At this point, the conditioning of instinct is inhibited by the fact that a parent must also be strong enough to win a battle of wills, making the child rationalize and agree to his place in the family order. The child, however, has had dominance all his life. When the people he has always perceived as his subordinates suddenly vie for dominance, the fight becomes much more difficult than it would have been had dominance been established before intellectual understanding.
Some of these children grow into the rebellious, out of control teens that reality television has come to focus upon. Some parents actually give in and just do their best to keep the worst from happening while they ride out the storm of adolescence – a storm that was bad enough when the only instigating factor was physiology. But that storm has become much more turbulent in recent years, with added factors such as the delusions of power and control an unchecked child can develop, and the frustrations that can come when a child doesn’t understand the order of his world. Thankfully, as these teens grow older, many do finally develop an understanding of community and, to the way of thinking by many parents, “achieve sanity”. Only when this happens can an individual finally come to terms with the ideals of modern society – that familial, vocational and social positions are achieved through the applications of wisdom, care and effort, and not the application of force. The sooner a child can be made to understand that he doesn’t control by force, the sooner that individual can come to understand this. If parents can settle the dominance issue early, then childhood could be a more productive time for learning, encouragement and positive development. Childhood could be a happier, easier time not only for the parent, but for the child, as well.
Teen rebellion is more dangerous today than it has ever been in the past. This is mainly because the government has perpetuated that the new style of child rearing is the style it endorses. Child abuse watchdogs are still on the prowl, and thanks to the media, even smoking isn’t considered as bad a habit in public as spanking a misbehaving child. Law and social expectation no longer support the parent. They are now allies of the children. In cases of abuse, these are good measures, but non-abused children have come to use this situation to the advantage of their efforts for maintaining familial control.
There was a “Twilight Zone” story that was eventually included in the 1983 film based on the series. It involved a young boy with exceptional powers to shape the matter of the universe any way he saw fit. If he was even mildly irritated with someone, their fate was gruesome indeed. His family was held hostage to his whims. They jumped at his command and hastened to fulfill his every desire for fear of what he’d do to them.
Ironically, and perhaps even prophetically, this story was written prior to the modern situation it shockingly mirrors, and the film was released in 1983 – right when the winds of change were blowing. The only contrasting factor was that, above anything else, the boy in this story craved a strong and controlling parental figure. Still, many modern parents do feel they are hostages to the will of their children, because children know if they don’t get their way, they can call the authorities and claim abuse.
Many children and teens have done so. I am personally familiar with a least two families who experienced it. Thankfully, the authorities in one case saw through the teen’s hoax and sided with the parents before any action was taken. Sadly however, many more authorities are afraid to act on behalf of the parents. There could be career ramifications if their actions resulted in a child’s continued abuse. Many authorities in this field also feel a strong moral obligation to believe the child in all cases. After all, imagine the consequences if they didn’t. Unfortunately, many parents have actually spent time in jail just because little Amy wanted to get back at them for not letting her go to the movies. This was the case in the second example I personally witnessed.
This is how the new style of parenting may have contributed to the unfortunate events of the last decade. This is the first important element in the combination of conditions that may have come to result in school-yard murder. As has already been indicated, this change in parenting began in the early 1980s. If you look at the list of school shootings and consider the ages of the teens from the earliest incidents…the first perpetrators were born in the early 1980s. When they became old enough and the parents started trying to control them, some of them reacted like toddlers, with all the unrestrained force and fury behind their outbursts that a toddler might show, and lashing out with the strongest weapons at their disposal as a first resort.
The second contributing factor goes hand in hand with the first, and was also a direct result of the change in parenting style. Though it may seem harsh to think so, the existence of pain and injury in a child’s life is actually a necessary teaching tool. It gives the mind a reference base for what hurts, and for what actions might cause damage to another person. There is no substitute for this knowledge or its value. A parent can tell a child a hundred times over the course of years to stay away from bees because they sting. But if the child has never in his life experienced anything remotely similar to a sting, he really doesn’t have a complete understanding of why he should stay away. It is only when the child has been stung by the bee that the lesson is finally, and irrevocably learned. It will be the child’s own decision from then on to avoid bees, and not just because Mom or Dad has said so.
Most parents are more familiar with the struggle to instill in their children a respect for the stove top. No matter how many times a parent explains to the child that the stove is hot, the child will often gleefully repeat his dangerous behavior. A child who has never experienced “hot” couldn’t be expected to know what hot is, and why they should avoid it. It’s much the same concept as trying to explain color to a life-long blind person. Once burned, however, the child will no longer need his parents’ advice on the matter. This self-imposed control is invaluable, and an extremely important psychological trait in the possible reasoning behind school shootings.
Children who experience the types of minor injuries that all generations of children did prior to the 1980’s might think twice of their own volition about physically attacking others. Anger creates impulse, it’s true. But if we all acted only on impulse, we’d live in a violent world of mayhem. It is experience, higher thinking and self control that all act as a counterbalance to impulse, thus allowing us as people to refrain from acting when impulse comes. In most cases, we refrain because experience – as well as imagination based on experience – has allowed us to visualize the consequences prior to taking action.
It’s true that as a child develops, he gains greater understanding of conveyed thought. Through imagination, a child can process and understand information obtained through means other than direct experience. However, there are two types of knowledge: knowledge gained through direct experience, and knowledge gained otherwise. How many times have any of us heard, “I always heard _____, but I never really knew or understood until _____,”? It is a type of deeper understanding that Robert Heinlein described with the word “grok”. To grok (pronounced GRAHK) something is to understand something so well that it is fully absorbed into oneself. In Heinlein’s science-fiction novel of 1961, Stranger in a Strange Land, the word is Martian and literally means “to drink” but metaphorically means “to take it all in,” to understand fully, or to “be at one with.” Today, grok sometimes is used to include acceptance as well as comprehension – to “dig” or appreciate as well as to know. No matter how well a person may think he understands what he’s seen, heard or been told, he will not “grok” it until he experiences it for himself.
In the days prior to the parenting style change, guns were less controversial, and a much more accepted part of the household. In even earlier days, in agricultural areas, children carried guns regularly to shoot vermin and protect themselves from harmful animals. With guns so accessible, one would have to ask why those generations didn’t experience the same homicidal tendencies as we are witnessing today. In the 1971 film, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, the very young boy, Mike Teevee, complained that he hadn’t gotten a real gun for his birthday. To show how non-controversial guns were even just ten years prior to the parenting style change, the next line in the film was from the father’s character, who said proudly, “Not ‘til you’re twelve, son!” Why did the attitudes change so much from that day to this? One answer might be because children of those eras had reality and the benefit of first hand experience with the kind of pain and injury that could help them to grok what a gun was capable of.
But exposing children to guns is not the extreme answer to this issue. Even if a young teen has never personally been shot, he might be able to imagine what kind of pain and damage a bullet might cause if he has experienced being hit with a rock…stepping on a nail…wrecking on his bicycle, or any number of other common childhood injuries. Just like with the stove top, a child who has never experienced the pain of a minor wound can’t be expected to have any real concept of the damage a wound could cause to another person…minor or major…if he were to inflict it. This information may not factor into conscious thought processes, but it does play a part in the development of an individual’s compassion and morality. And when a teen has developed that kind of morality, he is less likely to harm anyone else. In the most basic of terms, if Mike has been hit with a rock, he might come to feel that he wouldn’t want to be personally responsible for causing that kind of pain (or anything similar…or, more to the point, more severe) to anyone else.
Babies and toddlers, having no experience and not yet capable of higher thought or imagination, frequently act on impulse. Anyone who has spent any time at all around toddlers has witnessed this. And if that toddler is allowed to go through childhood without gaining the valuable experience of pain and injury, then imagination and parental advice alone may not be enough to counterbalance impulse when the teen feels the urge to lash out. Individual psychologies are also a concern, but taking steps to build this kind of knowledge base and to give children a good sense of compassion and morality just might mean the difference between shouting obscenities and pulling a trigger.
The only question left then is why the impulses to lash out come in the first place. Again, it very well may lead back to the parenting change of the early 1980’s. In addition to keeping a child padded and protected against physical injury, it also became vogue to protect children from being exposed to mental or emotional traumas. Within the household, there was zero tolerance for fighting, even if it was verbal. Parents began cuddling and comforting children at the slightest upset – despite the fact that all previous generations of children had a unspoken moral code to avoid crying whenever possible. The popularity of mild, child-friendly television took hold. Eventually, even the great Bugs Bunny found himself edited to the point of ridiculousness in the country’s efforts to shield children from the knowledge that insult and cruelty even exist in the outside world.
Perhaps worse than giving a child no base on which to build a morality for harming others, this environment offers no opportunity for a child to build tolerances or thresholds for themselves. When a child is exposed to these situations in doses small enough to deal with (even through watching examples on television), he has the opportunity to build a thick skin. To understand that, sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but words don’t have to harm one. Letting a child know what it’s like to lose something without the option of having it replaced could help in building tolerances for loss experienced during teen years…such as the loss of relationships.
When I researched the school shootings history, the reasons given for many of the shooters’ actions seemed directly related to an extremely low tolerance for dealing with emotional stress. In all cases, murder was an act far out of proportion to the situation. Where many of us with higher thresholds would cry or kick the sofa, these kids opened fire as their first resort.
There are 29 shootings listed at the beginning of this essay. Eight of these, when researched, gave no speculation of motive. In some cases, motive was not available because the shooter committed suicide. This leaves twenty-one shootings to analyze for motive. Of that twenty-one, twelve can be connected to a low threshold of tolerance. Starting with the first shooting in the list, 14-year old Barry Loukaitis blamed mood swings. 16-year old Evan Ramsey was called “retarded” and “spaz” by his peers. According to this article, police said the attack “appeared to be motivated only by some amorphous rage”. 16-year old Luke Woodham and his friends were said to have worshipped Adolf Hitler. But it would be foolish to credit that behavior as the reason why he opened fire in 1997. A 16-year old in America couldn’t possibly have such an understanding of Nazi ideals and agendas that he’d be complicit with them. More likely, he and his friends affected the Nazi style for nothing more than the shock value of rebellion. It made them feel bad-ass and intimidating. But Luke’s article went on to state that his girlfriend had broken up with him the previous day. His girlfriend was one of his victims. There was nothing Nazi about this shooting. It was nothing more than a tantrum over being dumped, executed in typical toddler fashion – unrestrained physical attack as first resort.
In 1998, Jacob Davis shot and killed the young man who was dating his ex-girlfriend. On April 20, 1999, even the Columbine massacre was ultimately accredited the fact that both Harris and Klebold had been outcasts, teased past their endurance. Charles Andrew Williams (March 5, 2001), Elizabeth Catherine Bush (March 07, 2001) and Jason McLaughlin (September 24, 2003) had also been bullied and teased. Thomas Solomon was another 1999 shooter who, like Luke Woodham in 1997, was depressed after breaking up with his girlfriend, as was Chris Buschbacher in 2001. Donald R. Burt (November 12, 2001) however, was looking for revenge for being expelled.
Sadly, low anger/depression thresholds are not exclusive to today’s teens. This following excerpt describes the shocking events that led to the death of a 6-year old: A first-grade boy at Buell Elementary School in Mount Morris Township, Mich., fatally shot classmate Kayla Rolland, 6, after the two children had a verbal spat. He took the .32-caliber handgun from his uncle’s home, where he was living.
With more than half the example shootings resulting from feelings of retribution, one has to eventually ask, “Why didn’t any of these kids just punch somebody?” Why use a gun as firstresort? There is actually a combination of answers – part of which may also explain nearly all of the remaining nine shooting examples.
First, let’s go back to the child abuse issue and the change in parenting style. Just as parents began making sure their children sustained no injuries during play, they also made sure no injuries happened as the result of fighting. Where it was once commonplace to see young children fist-fighting out their differences on the playground, parents were now snatching their little ones apart before even a harsh glare could be exchanged. As a result, many children lack confidence in their ability to fight hand to hand. Lacking this experience, many of these kids may have resorted to a gun because it made them feel strong enough and capable of carrying out the impulses they were feeling.
But the question still remains that, of all the weapons a child could choose, why choose a gun? Why not a baseball bat or a rock? I actually blame a combination of three contributing factors, all of which have two things in common. They all figure heavily into today’s young popular culture, and they were all introduced to mainstream awareness in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s.
The first of the three factors is the already controversial video game. Just like the other two factors, video games have come to glorify the fighting “bad-ass” character. To a large number of kids, cool = fighting bad-ass, and the majority of the fighting games out there use either martial arts or guns. Since very few kids actually get martial arts training, that just leaves guns as a means by which to emulate the games. But the games themselves suspend the reality of pain and consequence, and so a child might not grok that shooting someone in real life is nothing remotely similar to shooting a character in a game. Even more dangerous is the social behavior influence. Many games perpetuate the idea that, if you have a problem with someone, you attack them. It’s as simple as that. Children can only learn behavior by example, and in some games, you pick up a gun and shoot…and that’s just the way it is. That’s simply what you do. Also interesting to note is that in-home game systems became plentiful enough, and affordable enough, to exist as a cultural fixture of childhood in the latter half of the 1980’s. This would make our school-shooter generation the first generation to experience having video games as an integral part of childhood.
The glorification of gang culture is the next factor. Through music, film and television, the trappings of gang culture have reached a larger population than organized gang activity ever has in the past. What’s more, teens are the predominant end consumer of most of it. Even when gang activity is portrayed negatively, as it might be in an after school special sort of production, the clothing and attitude of the gang characters may still prove attractive to young viewers. And just like video games, this culture perpetuates the idea that when you have a problem with someone, you pick up a gun and shoot them.
Third is the influx of Asian martial arts entertainment. Asian anime style cartoons started becoming popular in the early 1990’s – right in time for the babies of the early 1980’s to be the first generation mainstream fans of them – and there are more of them on American television today than ever before. Most, if not all, of these programs glorify fighting as the noble effort, and their storylines involve fighting as the main element. Once again, it’s cool to be the fighting bad-ass. But America, unlike Asia, doesn’t offer practical training to the majority of its children. In Asia, the urge to fight is tempered early by the practical application of learning…and all the bruises that come with it. Where American children think of martial arts as “cool”, Asian children are brought up to recognize it as an important part of their culture. Fighting isn’t fun, or bad-ass. It’s to be respected and only used when there is no other choice because, quite frankly, children learn early about the pain involved. Also, because most American children do not get the training that would allow them to emulate – and thus be as powerful as – their martial arts heroes, they may turn to guns as an alternate means by which to attain an equal sense of power.
Keeping these three factors in mind – video games, gang culture and martial arts – we may then be able to explain six more of the remaining nine shooting examples. Because all these elements glorify fighting and killing, and because American children are rarely able to balance this influence with a grok level understanding of the realities of fighting and killing, the only informational input a child has to work with is from those sources. Sources from which there is no real blood, no pain and no consequences.
April 14, 2003 – 1 killed and 3 wounded in a gang related shooting. In 2000, Nate Brazill carried a gun to school for no apparent reason then ended up killing his teacher “by accident”. And then there was Seth Trickey who was by all accounts a well adjusted, happy, well liked individual who didn’t have any emotional problems at all. One day, he sat under a tree, took out a gun and started shooting. He was in a mute daze when police took him away. This alone would say to me that Seth had no clue as to the reality of what would happen when he started firing at his friends and classmates. Could it be that he had an urge to see what a shooting game might be like in real life? What kind of momentary lapse in reason might have allowed it to happen?
In 1999, Victor Cordova vowed he would “make history blasting this school”. Likewise, Michael Carmeal in 1997 stole a pistol, 2 shotguns and 2 rifles, with 700 rounds of ammunition. Like a typical bad-ass fighting hero, he’d threatened to shoot up the school several times, but no one had taken him seriously.
And finally, in 1998, two boys – Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden – took the time to dress in army fatigues and set a false fire alarm in order to bring their targets outside. These two boys exhibited more behaviors that would illustrate children playing make-believe than they did behaviors that would illustrate any kind of disturbed anger.
Which leaves three final examples. Examples that involved more complex psychologies. These three young men exhibited the same psychopathic behaviors as one might find in any adult serial killer. Two of them not only showed no remorse for their actions, but actually behaved as if it had all been a big joke. Andrew Wurst, Kipland Kinkel and Jeff Weise. Kinkel and Weise both exhibited psychotic behaviors outside of school. Both men were cold and calculating, as opposed to the quick decision actions and behaviors associated with a spur of the moment tantrum. Kinkel had also killed his parents at home before going to school. When police searched his home, they found that one of the five bombs Kinkel had placed in the home had actually been hidden under his mother’s corpse.
Weise created violent flash videos and uploaded them to the internet. One of these was a blood soaked video called “Target Practice” that featured a character killing four other people and then committing suicide. Weise himself killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend at home before going to Red Lake High School, where he killed a security guard, a teacher and five students. He wounded eight others before ending the spree with the suicide he’d portrayed in his flash cartoon.
Wurst was the jokester. He’d threaten people severely then laugh it off. In 1998, he escalated his joke when he rushed into a school dance and killed a teacher before opening fire into the crowd. He ran back out quickly, but was still laughing as if it were a joke even after he was apprehended. This might seem like the behavior of a very small child playing a game, which might then suggest that his example should have been grouped with the others who may have acted in association with gaming. He rushed in to play-attack, then rushed back out and laughed at what fun it had been. But the complete lack of remorse shows at best a total separation of fantasy and reality, or at worst, a true and absolute disregard for human life. Either of these explanations would then place him among those with more serious psychologies.
Between the years of 1979 and 1996, where our list of examples begins, there were only 3 reports of school shootings. Three in 17 years – two of which were perpetrated by teens who also exhibited psychopathic behaviors. The third was an example of low tolerance threshold. These figures undeniably illustrate that school shootings are a phenomenon that exploded right around 1996, and began with teens who were born right at the time the culture of parenting was changing in America. They were the first generation for which video games were a cultural part of childhood, and the first mainstream fans of Asian fighting cartoons. To my way of thinking, none of this is coincidence. Though parents may want more than anything in the world to provide for their children anything they may desire…and though they’d love nothing more than to keep their children bundled and safe from anything more harsh than the touch of their lips, it is a tragic mistake to keep them from the kinds of lessons that would allow them to build tolerances and morality.
Certainly not all children born since 1980 are killers. Of the millions, teen murderers number only in the hundreds (not all teen murderers acted at school, and so are not listed in this essay). However, an extremely large percentage of children do exhibit behavioral issues, as we have all witnessed either at home or in public. How fine is the line between out of control teen and murderer? How many more teens are close to that line? What are the odds that conditions might exist at any moment to push one of them to cross that line? The potential is extremely disturbing. This country is raising a generation of unpredictable time bombs.
Spanking a child may make them unhappy for a short period of time. Being stung by a bee, wrecking on a bicycle or even getting into a fight may also result in temporary tears. But a child with a thick skin will be unhappy far less often than a child who becomes upset over almost anything. Isn’t a happier, more confident child better for us all…including himself?
Kids obtain guns from stealing them or getting them from third parties. No matter how strict gun laws get, and even if people purchasing guns are doing so by the letter of the law, a kid can still get one into their hands. All they have to do is go into a friend’s or family member’s room and pick it up.
No measure of gun control – short of some magic step that would result in the non-existence of guns everywhere – will solve this problem or any other problem involving guns and crime. If a person has the criminal mind to perpetrate wrong in the first place, then he will have no problem with obtaining the weapon illegally. Gun control only restricts the legal channels through which to purchase a gun. Illegal channels (including the theft of legally obtained weapons) are wide open and are thriving.
Fear doesn’t lie in quantity, but in unpredictability. The bad behavior issue is common and widespread. Of the millions of children who fit this description, thousands either already have guns, or can access one with little difficulty. With numbers like these, it’s realistic to suggest that almost every school in the nation harbors the POTENTIAL for this to occur. With so many children experiencing the behavior issue, the kids who might be a real threat are harder to single out. On any given day, anywhere…anything might happen to push one of these kids to the point of action. THAT’s the danger, and the real reason for concern.
The answer lies in education, and a change in perception of how to raise children who will be free of emotional and behavioral issues. This vitally important process begins very early in a child’s life. As early as their second year. No law will allow this change to happen. Such laws may even hinder the duty we all have to protect children from real abuse. What is needed is another wind of change through cultural education, brought about by the cooperation of government, media, health providers and schools. Education that will teach new parents not only how to care for and protect their children, but how to prepare them with the emotional and psychological strength and moral fiber needed to function and flourish in the community of our nation.